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Romance of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 10 - Flirtation


Ronald experienced most intense pain, together with a cold, benumbed feeling in the fractured limb; but it was as nothing in comparison to the mental torture which he endured, or the indignant and fierce thoughts that animated his heart. He entertained a deep and concentrated hatred of the wretch who, aiming thus maliciously and savagely at his life, had in so daring a manner inflicted a wound by which he might ultimately lose his arm, and which, for the present, disabled him from accompanying his comrades, who were rapidly following up the retreating foe, and eager to engage. As his regiment belonged to the first brigade of the division, it consequently marched in front, or near the head of the column, and in his return to Merida he had to pass nearly 16,000 men ; and the bitterness of his feelings was increased at the idea that every man there would probably share the honour of an engagement, of which his mutilated state forbade him to be a participator. Solemn and deep were the inward vows he took, to seek dire vengeance for this morning's work on Narvaez Cifuentes, if ever he again confronted him ; and his only fear was, that he might never meet with him more.

From the bridge of Merida he cast a farewell look after his comrades, but naught could he see, save a long and dense cloud of dust, through which the glitter of polished steel and the waving fold of a standard appeared at times, as the extended length of the marching column wound its way up the gentle eminence, above which appeared the top of the spire of Almendralejo, several leagues distant.

By Pedro Gomez he was conducted to the stately mansion of Don Alvaro, and delivered over to the tender care of Donna Catalina, whose softest sympathies were awakened when the young officer was brought back to her scarcely able to speak, and his gay uniform covered with blood,— for he had lost a great quantity, owing to the hasty manner in which his namesake, the surgeon, had bound up the wound. Add to this that he was a handsome youth, — a soldier who had come to fight for Spain, and had but yesternight rescued her brother from death ; the young lady's interest, gratitude, and pity were all enlisted in his favour. Her large dark eyes sparkled with mingled sorrow and pleasure when she beheld him, — sorrow at the pain he suffered, and pleasure at the happiness of being his nurse and enjoying his society in a mansion of which she was absolute mistress, and where there was no old maiden aunt or duenna to be a spy upon her, or overruler of her movements ; and as for the scandal of Merida, or quizzing of her female companions, she was resolved not to care a straw, — she was above the reach of either. Her uncle, the Prior of San Juan, resided in the mansion, but the worthy old padre was so enlarged in circumference by ease and good living, and so crippled by the gout, that he never moved further than from his bed to the well-bolstered chair in which he sat all day, and from the chair back to bed again, and no one ever entered his room save old Dame Agnes (already mentioned), who alone seemed to possess the power of pleasing him; consequently he was never seen by the other inhabitants of the house, any more than if he did not exist.

We will pass over the account of the bone-setting by the Padre Men-dizabal, the famous medical practitioner in Merida, who nearly drove. Ronald mad by an oration on different sorts of fractures, simple and compound, and the different treatment requisite for the cure of various gunshot wounds, before his arm was splinted and bandaged up. Weak and exhausted from the loss of blood, and his head buzzing with Mendizabal's discourse, right glad was Ronald when he found himself in a comfortable and splendid couch, — Catalina's own which she had resigned for his use as the best in the house, — with its curtains drawn round for the night; and he forgot, in a dreamy and uneasy slumber, the exciting passages of the last few days, the danger of his wound, and the sunny eyes of the donna.

The tolling bells of a neighbouring steeple awakened him early next morning, and brought his mind back to the world, and a long chain of disagreeable thoughts.

There is scarcely anything which makes one feel so much from home as the sound of a strange church-bell; and the deep and hollow ding-dong which rang from the Gothic steeple of San Juan was very different from the merry rattle of the well-known kirk bell at Lochisla. Ronald thought of that village bell, and the noble peasantry whom it was wont to call to prayer, and the association brought a gush of fond and sad recollections into his mind. He felt himself, as it were, deserted in a strange country, — among a people of whose language he knew almost nothing; he looked round him, and his apartment appeared strange and foreign, — every object it presented was new and peculiar to his eye. He thought of Scotland — of home, — home with all its ten thousand dear and deeply impresssed associations, until he wept like a child, and his mind became a prey to the most profound and intense dejection, — suffering from the home-sickness, an acuteness and agony of feeling which only those can know who have been so unhappy as to experience this amiable feeling, — one which exists ail-powerfully in the hearts of the Scots, who, although great travellers and wanderers from home, ever turn their thoughts, fondly and sadly, to the lofty mountains, the green forests, and the rushing rivers which they first beheld when young, and to the grassy sod that covers the dust of their warrior ancestors, and which they wish to cover their own, when they follow them ' to the land of the leal.'

The feverish state of his body had communicated itself to his mind, and for several days and nights, in the solitude of his chamber, he brooded over the memory of his native place, enduring the acuteness of the nostalgia in no small degree; and even the fair Catalina, with her songs, her guitar, and her castanets, failed to enliven him, at least for a time ; his whole pleasure — and a gloomy pleasure it was — being to brood over the memory of his far-off home. The dreams that haunted the broken slumbers which the pain of his wound permitted him to snatch, served but to increase the disorder ; and often, from a pleasing vision of his paternal tower with its mountain loch and pathless pine forests, of his white-haired sire as he last beheld him, or of Alice Lisle smiling and beautiful, with her bright eyes and curling tresses, twining her arms endearingly round him, and laying her soft cheek to his, he was awakened by some confounded circumstance, which again brought on him the painful and soul-absorbing lethargy which weighed down every faculty, rendering him careless of every present object, save the miniature of Alice. The paleness of his complexion, and the intense sadness of his eye, puzzled his medical attendant, Doctor Mendizabal ; but neither to him nor to Donna Catalina, who used the most bewitching entreaties, would the forlorn young soldier confess the cause of his dejection, — concealment of the mental feelings from others being a concomitant of the disease. So the two formed their own opinions: Mendizabal concluded it to be loss of blood ; and the lady, after consulting her cousin and companion, Inesella de Truxillo, supposed that he must unquestionably be in love, — what else could render so handsome an officiale so very sad?

This conclusion gave him additional interest with her; and certes, Alice Lisle would little have admired the attendance upon Ronald's sick couch of a rival, and one so dangerously beautiful; but her fears might have decreased, had she seen how incessantly, during the days he was confined to his bed, he gazed upon the little miniature which Louis Lisle had given as a parting gift. Concealing it from the view of others, he watched it with untiring eyes, until, in the fervency of his fancy, the features seemed to become animated and expanded, — the sparkling eyes to fill with light and tenderness, — the pale cheek to flush and the dark curls which fell around it to wave, — the coral lips to smile; while he almost imagined that he heard the soft murmurs of her voice mingling with the gurgle of the Isla, and the rustle of the foliage on the banks, where they were wont to play and gambol in infancy.

In a few days, however, his mental and bodily languor disappeared, and when, by the surgeon's advice, he left his sick chamber, his usual lightness of heart returned rapidly, and he was soon able to promenade under the piazzas of the Plaza with Catalina during the fine sunny evenings; and although the miniature was not less admired than formerly, the fair original would have trembled could she have witnessed all the nursing which Ronald received from his beautiful patrona, and heard all the soft things which were uttered.

As his strength increased, their strolls were extended, and the young ladies of Merida smiled at each other, and shook their heads significantly, as the graceful donna, attired in her veil and mantilla, swept through the great stradi, flirting her little fan, with the foreign officiate in the plumed bonnet and rich scarlet uniform. His fair patrona showed him all the remains of Roman magnificence in Merida; and Ronald, who like most of his countrymen, was an enthusiastic admirer of the gloomy and antique, explored every cranny and nook of the immense ruins of the once important castle, — surveying with a sad feeling the pillared halls which once had rung to the sound of the trumpet and the clashing harness of Spanish chivalry, but where now the ivy hung down from the roofless wall, and the long grass grew between the squares of the tessellated pavement. Time had reduced it to little more than a heap of shattered stones, but it was as ancient, probably, as the days of the Goths, during whose dominion a strong garrison lay at Merida.

The large amphitheatre, of which the citizens are so proud, formed another attraction, and its circular galleries were the scene of many an evening walk with Catalina and her cousin Inesella of Truxillo, a very gay and very beautiful girl, with whom a great deal of laughing and flirting ensued in clambering up the steep stone seats, and rambling through its maze of arcades, arched passages, projecting galleries, and the long dark dens opening on the arena.

The Roman baths of Diana, a subterranean edifice of an oval form, containing ranges of dressing-chambers, and a large stone bathing-basin filled with pure water, formed another object of interest; and many were the pleasant strolls they enjoyed along the grassy banks of the Guadiana and by the summit of a high hill (the name of which I have forgotten), in the shade of the broad trellis, where the vines were bursting into leaf, and in every green lane and embowered walk about Merida, even to the hermitage of San Bartolomi, where a white-bearded anchorite showed them the boiling-hot spring of Alange.

During this intercourse, Ronald rapidly improved in his Spanish: and who would not have done so under the tuition of such fair instructresses? He found it pleasing to be school'd in a strange tongue By female lips and eyes — that is, I mean, When both the teacher and the taught are young, As was the case, at least, where I have been; They smile so when one's right, and when one's wrong They smile still more ; and then there intervene Pressure of hands, perhaps even a chaste kiss :— I learn'd the little that I know by this.'

More than one week had slipped away, and Ronald had nearly recovered from his wound, though still obliged to keep his arm slung in a scarf. In the garden at the back of the mansion, he was seated by Catalina's side one evening on the steps of a splendid fountain, where four brazen deities spouted the crystal liquid from their capacious throats into a broad basin of black marble, from which, by some subterraneous passage, it was carried to the Guadiana. The spring was now advanced, and the delightful climate of Spain was fast arraying nature, and bringing her forth in all her glory. From the fountain, broad gravelled walks, thickly edged with myrtle, branched off in every direction, and between them were beds where the crimson geranium, the gigantic rose-bushes, the pale lilac blossom, and a thousand other garden flowers, which it would be useless to mention, were budding in the heat of the vernal sun by day, and in the soft moist dews by night. Around and above them the graceful willow, the tufted acacia, the stately palm, the orange-tree, with its singularly beautiful leaves, and numerous other shrubs, were spreading into foliage, which appeared to increase daily in richness of tint and variety ; and beautiful vistas, winding walks, and umbrageous bowers were formed among them with all the art and nicety of Spanish landscape gardening.

The young Highlander and Catalina were seated on the margin of the fountain, as I have already said. They conversed but little. The donna busied herself with the strings of her guitar, and Ronald watched in silence the nimble motions of her white hands as she tied and untied, screwed and unscrewed the strings and pegs, and struck the chords to ascertain the true tone. Strange and conflicting thoughts flitted through his mind while he gazed upon his beautiful companion. He was aware how dangerous to his peace her presence was, and he almost longed for, yet dreaded the coming time, when he should be obliged to return to his regiment. To Alice Lisle he felt that he was bound by every tie that early intimacy, love, and honour could twine around him, — honour ! how could he think of so cold a word? and while he did so, he blushed that he could find room in his heart for the image of another.

'Catalina is very beautiful — decidedly so,' thought he, while he viewed the curve of her white neck, and the outline of her superb bust. ' Her face is one of surpassing loveliness, and her eyes — but Alice is equally bewitching, although perhaps a less showy beauty. Alice is very gentle and winning, so lady-like, and we have known each other so long — it is impossible I can forget her. Why, then, have I been trifling with one whose presence is so dangerous to my peace? Yes 1 if I would preserve a whole heart and my allegiance to Alice, I must fly from you, Catalina.'

While he reasoned thus with himself, Catalina raised her dark and laughing eyes to his, while she struck the chords of her instrument, and sang a few words of a very beautiful Spanish air. So melodious was her tone, so graceful her manner, so winning the expression of eye, who can wonder that Ronald's resolution melted like snow in the sunshine, and that he felt himself vanquished? Poor Alice! With an air of tenderness and embarrassment he took the little hand of the donna within his own. She read in his eye the thoughts which passed through his mind ; she cast down her long jetty lashes, while a rich bloom suffused her soft cheek. Ronald was about to murmur forth something — in fact, he knew not what, when a loud knocking at the outer gate of the mansion, and the sound of a well-known voice, aroused him.

'Unbar the yett — this instant! ye auld doited gomeral! I will see my maister in spite o' ye,' cried Evan impatiently, while Agnes delayed unbarring the door to so boisterous a visitor.

'Caramba, senor! Quien es?' she repeated.

'Gude wife, I speak nae language but my ain; so ye needna waste your wind by speirin' questions that I canna answer.'

At Ronald's desire, the old housekeeper undid the door, which was well secured by many a bar and lock, and he immediately saw the waving plumes of Evan's bonnet dancing above the shrubbery, as he came hastily towards the fountain, with his musket at the long trail, and his uniform and accoutrements covered with the dust of a long day's march. His joy was unbounded on seeing his master, and rapid and quick were the earnest inquiries he made, without waiting for answers, concerning his wound, and how he had been treated 'by the unco folk he had been left to bide amang, — begging the bonnie leddy's pardon.'

Catalina bowed, — although she knew not a word that he said; but by the natural politeness and expression of the soldier's look, she knew that he referred to her.

'Now then, Evan, that I have answered all your inquiries, be pleased to stand steady, and moderate yourself so far as to reply to mine,' said Ronald kindly, far from feeling annoyed at his appearance at a juncture so peculiarly awkward and tender. ' How come you here just now? and how alone?'

'I got leave frae the colonel, after an unco dunning, to come here and attend you, for I thocht you would feel yoursel' unco queer, left alane among the black-avised folk, that canna speak a decent tongue. But here, sir, is a letter and a newspaper, sent you by Maister Macdonald.' Evan, after fumbling among the ration biscuits, shoe-brushes, and other matters which crammed his haversack, produced them. ' Just as I cam awa' frae the place whar the regiment lay, in dreary strath — a place like Corrie-oich for a' the world — seventy miles frae this, I heard that the order had come to retire to the rear —'

'Upon Merida?

'I canna say, sir, because the very moment that Cameron gied me leave, and Maister Macdonald gied me his letter, I set off, and have travelled nicht and day, without stopping, except maybe just for an hour, to sleep by the roadside or to get a mouthfu' o' meat, — trash sic as ane wadna gie to puir auld Hector, the watch-dog at hame, at auld Lochisla. Oh, it was a far and weary gait; but I was sae anxious to see ye, sir, that I have trod it out in twa days, in heavy marching order as ye see me, and I am like to dee wi' sheer fatigue.'

'You are a faithful fellow, Evan; but I fear, by your love for me, you may work mischief to yourself. Here comes Dame Agnes, — to her care I must consign you. She was a kind attendant to me when I much wanted one.'

'God bless ye for that, gude wife!' cried Iverach, catching her in his arms and kissing her withered cheek; a piece of gallantry which she owed more to Evan's native drollery and his present state of excitement, than any admiration of her person.

'I believe there is some gaucy kimmer at home, who would not like this distribution of favour, Evan,' said Ronald ; while Catalina clapped her hands and laughed heartily at the old dame, who, although very well pleased at the compliment, affected great indignation, and arranged her velvet hood with a mighty air.

'It's just quiet friendship for the auld body, — naething else, sir. Even puir wee Jessie Cavers wadna hae been angry, had she been present and seen me.'

'Cavers — Jessie Cavers! I have heard that name before, surely?

'It's very like ye may, sir,' replied the young Highlander, a flush crossing his cheek. 'She is Miss Alice Lisle's maid, — a servant lassie at the Inch-house.'

'Oh — a girl at Inchavon? I thought the name was familiar to me, faltered Ronald, reddening in turn. 'But you had better retire and tell the military news to Pedro Gomez, whom I see waiting you impatiently yonder.'

Reserving the newspaper for another time, Ronald, with the donna's permission, opened Macdonald's letter.

'This billet is from the army,' said she, familiarly placing her arm through the young officer's and drawing close to his side, while she caused his heart to thrill at her touch. 'Ah ! tell me if there is any news of my brother Alvaro in it?'

' I will read it aloud, translating those parts you do not understand. It is dated from Villa Franca:'

'Dear Stuart,
'Fassifern and the rest of ours are anxious to know how you are, after that wound you received so villainously, and from which I hope you are almost recovered by this time. Send us word by the first messenger from Merida to the front. Remember me particularly to the fair Catalina, and I assure you that your quarters at present in her splendid mansion are very different from mine here, — in a wretched hut, where the rain comes in at the roof, and the wind at a thousand crannies. You may congratulate us, my old comrade, on the easy victories we obtain over Messieurs the French, who have been driven from Almendralejo, and all the places adjacent, with little loss on our part. I now write you from a village, out of which our brigade drove them a few days ago. How much you would have admired the gallantry of our Spanish friend Don Alvaro, who accompanied us in this affair. On our approaching the enemy, they retired without firing a shot at first, and his troop of lancers, who were halted on the road leading to Los Santos, charged them at full gallop, shouting Viva Ferdinand! Espana! Espana y buena Esperanza!'

'Noble Alvaro! my brave brother!' interrupted Catalina, her eyes sparkling with delight. ' I will always love this officiale for what he says. Oh! that Inesella were here! She is betrothed to Alvaro, senor, and would have been wedded long since, but for a quarrel they had about Donna Ermina, the wife of old Salvador, the guerilla chief.'

'It was a noble sight,' continued the letter, 'to see the tall lances, levelled to the rest, the steel helmets flashing in the sun, and to hear the clang of the rapid hoofs, as the Spaniards rushed down the brae and broke upon the enemy with the force of a whirlwind, a thunderbolt, or anything else you may suppose. Campbell protested it equalled the charge of the Mamelukes, when he " was in Egypt with Sir Ralph."

Alvaro has now gone off to join Murillo, where he hopes to meet Don Salvador de Zagala, whom he vows to impale alive. He left me but an hour ago, and desires me in my letter to send a kiss to his sister. This, I dare swear, you will be most happy to deliver.'

Ronald faltered, and turned his eye on Catalina, who blushed deeply. It was impossible to resist the temptation ; her face was very close to his, and he pressed his lips upon her burning cheek.

'Read on, senor mio,' she said, disengaging herself with exquisite grace; 'perhaps there may be more about Alvaro?

'Ronald glanced his eye over the next paragraph, and passed it over in silence and confusion.

'A little flirtation en passant, you know, will not injure your allegiance to the fair ladye whose miniature — but you may burn my letter without reading further, should I write much on that subject. Angus Mackie, a private of your company, was the other night engaged in a regular brawl with the natives of Almendralejo, — some love affair with the daughter of an old abogado (lawyer). I refer you for the particulars to the bearer, who was engaged in it. We had another row at Almendralejo the day we entered it. Some Spaniard, by way of insult, ran his dagger into the bag of Ronald Dim's pipe, and so great was the wrath of the "Son of the Mist," that he dirked him on the spot; and although the fellow is not dead, he is declared by Doctor Stuart to be " in a doubtful state."

'I have sent you an Edinburgh paper (a month or two old), wherein you will see by the "Gazette" that a Louis Lisle has been appointed to us, vice poor Oliphant Cassilis, killed in the battle of Arroya. There are people of the name in Perthshire; perhaps you may know something of this Lisle.'

The blood rushed into Ronald's face, and a mixed feeling of pleasure and shame to meet the brother of Alice filled his mind. He read on:

'I was just about to conclude this long letter, when some strange news arrived. Ciudad Rodrigo has been invested, and it is supposed must capitulate soon. Our division has been ordered by Lord Wellington to retire into Portugal forthwith; the "gathering" is at this moment ringing-through the streets of Villa Franca, and the corps is getting under arms. — Adieu, etc.

'Alister Macdonald.

'P.S. — L. Lisle is at Lisbon, bringing up a detachment for ours, — a hundred rank and file. I do not know what route we take for Portugal; but you had better endeavour to join us on the way.'


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